Tag Archives: digital twins

Futureproofing the world’s copper supply through technology use

Realising the vision of a world of clean energy brings the issue of metal supply into sharp focus, with major and sustained increases required to meet growing demands, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Ellen Thomson* writes.

With copper, for example, there are predictions of a shortfall of 15 Mt per annum by 2034 based on the current output. Therefore, boosting the efficiency of mining operations has never been more important, and smarter technology is undoubtedly the way forward to achieve this. Real-time sampling and measurement right across the mineral processing value chain can arm miners with analytical data, enabling them to build a robust understanding of the performance of each plant and drive continuous improvement at every step of the process. This article takes a closer look at how several of these steps could be optimised, including ore grade measurement, sorting on the mill feed conveyor, particle size analysis in the grinding circuit, the addition of reagents in the flotation circuit and elemental analysis and impurity detection in the concentrate leaving the plant.

Copper miners face the challenge of satisfying the rising demand for metal, while hitting the industry’s 2050 net zero carbon target. This is likely to require significant changes in operations through processing low-grade ore more efficiently, fully exploiting existing deposits, and bringing new mines into production. Unfortunately, higher-grade ore – with a 2-3% metal concentration – has largely been depleted, and miners now often work with concentrations of just 0.5%, meaning greater quantities of ore must be processed to extract sufficient amounts of copper. Therefore, it is essential to seek fresh opportunities to improve processes across the entire mining value chain, so that the increasing demand for copper ore will be met well into the future.

Does your ore make the grade?

Enhancing mining efficiency begins as soon as raw material is extracted from the ground, and extends through the crushing process and the mill feed conveyor. It is important to accurately measure the grade of the plant feed as this will impact both the performance of the concentrator and the production costs of the final product. However, this can be challenging, as some deposits are highly heterogeneous and unpredictable. Bulk ore sensing and sorting are, therefore, crucial steps in improving the raw feed material consistency and concentrator efficiency, since they reduce the dilution of incoming feeds and redirect low or marginal grade material away from the concentrator at the first opportunity. These stages rely on highly accurate and precise analytical technologies to rapidly differentiate material grade and minimise the loss of valuable material, moving only economically viable ore further along in the process. A high spec analyser is vital to this part of the chain and enables small and lower-grade satellite deposits to be accessed more successfully, as well as increasing profits for established plants.

Cracking down on the grinding circuit

Grinding is an essential first step in mineral liberation, but there is often no clear understanding of what the target particle size should be for a given head grade. Producing finer particles liberates more metal, but also increases media and energy costs. More than 50% of the energy consumed at a mine goes into crushing and grinding, so over grinding has definite economic and environmental implications. It is crucial, therefore, for each mine to find a balance between particle size and circuit throughput that limits consumption of grinding media and energy, while still maximising metal yields.

Grinding just enough is critical – too fine means lower throughput and/or higher energy consumption; too coarse and recovery suffers

Once a target has been established, real-time analysis of particle size and head grade elemental composition – for example, by prompt gamma neutron activation analysis (PGNAA) using a cross-belt system such as the Thermo Scientific™ CB Omni™ Agile Online Elemental Analyzer – can have a significant impact on the efficiency of the grinding circuit. In addition, by standardising particle size and controlling composition through the plant feed and grinding stages, the stability in feed forward control is increased going into the next stage – the flotation circuit.

The CB Omni™ Agile Online Elemental Analyzer (Thermo Scientific) rapidly and accurately differentiates material that is at or below the cut-off grade for ore sorting, the company says

Fine-tuning flotation

Flotation is a complicated physicochemical process where reagents – such as frothers, collectors and pH modifiers – are introduced to promote separation. The flotation feed can vary in particle size and chemistry depending on how the grinding circuit is optimised, and may contain excess fines. Miners might choose to compensate by adding more reagents, which can sometimes be beneficial but can also incur greater financial and environmental costs. Therefore, it is important to tailor the dosages of the flotation reagents in response to the incoming ore grade and particle size.

Concentrating on monitoring impurities

Certain impurities compromise the value of a concentrate, but they are often overlooked. Detecting impurities in the concentrate ahead of shipping reduces the chance of rejection at the receiving site – and the subsequent financial losses – and has the potential to improve ore quality, strengthen a company’s reputation and reduce the risk of penalty charges. In fact, representative sampling throughout ore extraction to concentrate the production process should be considered, but this can be extremely challenging owing to concentrated slurries, high tonnages, long distances between sample and analysis, and the expense and complexity of tackling head constraints.

Multi-stream analysers – like the Thermo Scientific MSA 3300 Slurry XRF Analyzer – are commonly employed in the mining industry, and can seem like an excellent, cost-effective solution. However, multiple streams can reduce efficiencies and lengthen the time to results – leading to less responsive control – and so their low upfront cost should be carefully balanced with their long-term implications. Choosing high quality analytical equipment that requires minimal manual input and has a proven record of reliability could help overcome these challenges and offer a better long-term solution. For example, a dedicated online sampling and elemental analysis station, such as the AnStat-330, provides a versatile and compact solution for addressing issues related to the process control of critical streams, time to results, the distance from sampler to analyser and the requirement for a metallurgical accounting quality sample.

 

 

The MSA 3300 Slurry XRF Analyzer (Thermo Scientific) measures up to 12 streams, with full stream separation retained throughout, Thermo Fisher says
The Anstat-330 Slurry Online Sampling and Elemental Analysis Station (Thermo Scientific) comes with options for additional process functionality, including distribution and pebble screening

Future-ready mining technology

It is vital to detect and understand why mining processes may be operating sub-optimally to know how to improve them. Relevant, reliable digital information is the foundation of an efficient operation and investing in more effective and continuous analysis is a key strategy for increasing return on investment. Digital twins, for example, integrate and collect data from sensors into a cloud platform to construct a complete and fully representative digital version of the concentrator. This allows miners to model different scenarios – such as changing process parameters – without interrupting the real-world activities of the mine. They aid in decision making and help to prevent unnecessary expenditure, as well as identifying any operational bottlenecks. Mining companies could potentially achieve 20 times – with some estimates up to 40 times – return on their initial investment through implementing digital twins, and more easily establish advanced, automated process control, increasing efficiency and depopulating mines.

Digital innovations are undoubtedly going to transform the mining industry and will help to reduce resource consumption and meet future sustainability goals. Without reliable, timely feedback, process control will always be on a ‘trial and error’ basis, which is no longer sufficient if miners are to fulfil the increasing copper demand ahead of us. Thermo Fisher Scientific supports the mining industry in adopting such technologies to enable dependable, timely and, often, real-time measurements that provide the data that miners need to track metal values, all the way from exiting the mine through to concentrate shipping.

*Ellen Thomson is PGNAA & Minerals Senior Applications Specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific

Maptek looks back on 40 years of mining software advances

Maptek is looking back on its roots, 40 years after geologist Bob Johnson laid foundations for the company to become a leading provider of innovative software, hardware and services for the mining industry.

In the mid-1970s, Johnson opened a small bureau service above a row of shops in suburban Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, to computerise coal seam drafting. That venture was the precursor to Maptek, which today develops, sells and supports innovative mining solutions to more than 20,000 users worldwide.

In 1981, Johnson then formed a company to allow customers to do their own computer work. That became Maptek, which today employs 350 staff in 18 offices to support a customer base including the world’s biggest mines across more than 90 countries.

“The transformation from startup to global technology developer did not happen overnight,” Maptek founder Johnson acknowledges, as he reflects on what defines Maptek today. “Innovation results from many small increments – it rarely happens from an epiphany.

“We started off by computerising the plotting of boreholes and mapping of coal deposits, which, until then, was a very tedious manual process. People were asking if it worked for all commodities, not just coal, and I realised we needed to put the software in the hands of the users. This was how Maptek came about.”

Johnson states that Maptek sets and continuously strivers to hit a high standard.

“Early computing in the 1980s was the breeding ground for automating manual tasks and it was a challenge to convince some people to replace existing practices,” he said. “Tradition dies hard!

“Maptek integrated multiple steps in the computerisation of mining applications. In this way we were able to own the workflow and it’s probably key to why our first customer, BHP Coal, remains a customer today.”

He added: “Do something different and stay in front is a guiding principle that remains a key business value for Maptek.”

Fast forward to 2021 where CEO Eduardo Coloma is embracing the vision, with a long-term technology development roadmap to deliver state-of-the-art solutions and exceptional customer experience, the company says.

“Maptek intends to stay ahead by continuing to be a disruptive influence and affect change for the betterment of the mining industry,” Coloma says.

The new Mining 4.0 paradigm has five characteristics, according to Coloma.

“Vast amounts of data; delivering that data to the right people at the right time; efficient data storage and universal access to it; using technology for computationally-intensive tasks; and data-driven decision making…all need to be balanced,” he said. “Add to that the challenges that the pandemic unleashed!”

He added: “With challenge comes opportunity. Miners are continually on the lookout for smarter processes.

“Maptek was conceived 40 years ago at the start of the digital revolution. Customers today have an ever-growing appetite for technologies to enable digitalisation and automation. They are not afraid of new technology and look to us to lead them.

“It’s not just technology that is fast-evolving, the people and organisations who consume it must also be open to adopting new ways of working. Digitalisation has provided the conduit for data to be universally accessible and dynamically updatable.

“We want to make sure our customers get the most of their data, sharing it across the organisation in such a way that everyone benefits. Data is being democratised!”

A data-driven culture embraces systems which are robust, repeatable and user-independent, according to Coloma.

“Crucially these systems meet the needs of a mobile, shift-based and geographically dispersed workforce,” he said.

“We build technology solutions that allow our customers to turn their data into knowledge and use that knowledge to support business improvement. We provide an automated decision support ecosystem…they provide their individual experience and intuition to make that knowledge relevant to their business.

“Already we are exploiting machine learning and digital twinning to connect the planning cycle to production performance data for comparing performance against plans.”

With fewer barriers to extending technology within mines, companies are looking at the entire value chain to make improvements. Maptek can help connect processes, functions and data to enable more accurate, predictable and profitable operation of mines, it says.

In closing, Coloma explains why Maptek is well placed to help mining companies use their data as a bridge to continuous improvement.

“Our unique culture, instilled by our founder Bob Johnson, gives staff a great amount of freedom to be innovative,” he said. “It fosters imagination everywhere and is the key to continued success.

“We give our customers the freedom to dream and ask for solutions to their real world problems.

“Our enduring relationships with customers are hugely important in our ability to solve these challenges. Bob mentioned our first customer, who remains a customer today. But accepting that change is inevitable is a reminder to us not to rest on tradition.”

Boliden and Luleå University of Technology enter into a collaboration agreement

Boliden and Luleå University of Technology have entered into a long-term strategic collaboration agreement that could help deepen the work the two have been pursuing in the fields of mine automation and optimal resource utilisation within the smelting process.

The new agreement means collaboration will be enhanced “in terms of competence provision and competence development, as well as research and innovation towards leading positions within automation and resource utilisation”, Boliden said.

The miner has long collaborated with Luleå University of Technology, with a focus on developing technology and strengthening competence in both mining and smelting operations. The university has also been an important recruitment base for Boliden.

Mikael Staffas, President and CEO of Boliden (left, pictured with Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn, Luleå University of Technology’s Vice Chancellor), said: “Attracting and further developing skills and technologies is an important part of Boliden’s strategy and requires long-term work. We are already a leader in areas such as climate performance and I look forward to future efforts to further develop the business.”

Some examples of projects the two are working on include process automation and digital twins, human-machine interaction in automation, and sustainability management and social acceptance.

Pär Weihed, Professor and Pro Vice-Chancellor, Luleå University of Technology, said: “In connection with the climate transition, we are seeing there is substantial demand for metals and minerals. At the same time, Luleå University of Technology and Boliden have a long and successful history, and together we can create better conditions for a more sustainable supply of raw materials.”

Mining EPC/EPCM space in transition mode, Ausenco’s Ebbett says

The past 12 months has been an interesting period for the mining EPC/EPCM space with miners looking to offload more risk and leverage new technology to improve design accuracy, reduce cost and shorten the time between construction and production.

Ahead of the annual focus on this sector, to be published in International Mining’s December issue, IM heard from Ausenco’s Vice President of Global Project Delivery, John Ebbert, on the recent trends affecting the project design, construction and delivery market.

IM: In the past 12 months, how has the market for mining EPCM contracts evolved? Do some of the big contract awards to the likes of WorleyParsons (Koodaideri), Bechtel (QBII) indicate a shift in the type of contracts/services some of the big projects/companies are now looking for?

JE: These large project awards are in line with increased mining investment. The market is moving towards a greater level of integration between owners and EPCM service providers with a focus on minimising risks typically associated with mega projects. This is not only the case in the mining sector; we are seeing similar trends in other sectors. This shift reflects the capacity of each contracting party to accept risk. During periods of reduced activity, contractors need to accept greater risk (EPC) to protect their revenue and margins. Conversely in periods of greater project activity, contractors are able to realise similar margins on a risk-free basis (EPCM).

IM: Over the same time period, has automation become more firmly entrenched in mine engineering plans? Are big open-pit mines now being designed to facilitate autonomous equipment or a combination of manned and autonomous equipment?

JE: Automation is considered at all stages of project development. The productivity and efficiency gains afforded by automation and digitisation help de-risk or improve return on investment, something owners always aim to achieve. The level and application of automation ranges from simply reducing dependency on operators, through to the creation of digital twins that support asset optimisation using advanced analysis techniques. Not only are we designing mines that support and enable automation, we are also designing to enable advanced data and analytics processes.

IM: For underground mine design, how has the evolution of mine electrification influenced design? Is the use of this equipment enabling mines to go deeper on ramps than they were previously able to (thanks to reduced ventilation needs)?

JE: The evolution of mine electrification emphasises the need for flexible mine design that will accommodate new and emerging technology predicted to be mainstream in the not-so-distant future. Adequately ventilating underground mines is a challenge due to the sheer volume of power required to move and potentially cool the air. Not only does the shift away from diesel-powered equipment towards electrification have well documented health and environmental benefits, it also allows greater flexibility in development cycles, mining at greater depths and increased productivity as ventilation requirements to maintain a safe environment for personnel are lower.

IM: In terms of the project pipeline, what are the big contract awards to look out for in the mining space over the next 12 months?

JE: From a global market perspective, we are expecting continued demand for and investment in metals such as copper, lithium and cobalt in line with the increasing global demand for electric vehicles. Similarly, due to global trade and market uncertainty, gold is likely to remain a strong player in the next 12 months.

ABB twins digital solutions with Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform

ABB and Dassault Systèmes have announced a global partnership to offer customers in digital industries a “unique software solutions portfolio ranging from product life cycle management to asset health solutions”, the two companies said.

ABB and Dassault will, they say, provide customers an end-to-end offering of advanced open digital solutions, enhancing competitiveness of industrial companies, while increasing flexibility, speed and productivity of their products’ lifecycles, manufacturing and operations.

The partnership will combine ABB Ability™ digital solutions and Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform, and build on both companies’ strong installed base, deep domain expertise and global customer access, they said. ABB has already adopted the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to model and simulate its solutions before delivering them to its customers.

“With this partnership, ABB will develop and provide customers with advanced digital twins, enabling customers to run ABB’s solutions and their operations with improved overall efficiency, flexibility and sustainability,” ABB said.

The companies will, in a staged approach, focus on factory automation and robotics, process industry automation, as well as electrification solutions for smart buildings, with the first joint solutions showcased at the upcoming industrial Hannover Messe trade fair, in Germany, on April 1-5.

ABB CEO, Ulrich Spiesshofer, said: “This game-changing partnership will serve our customers to lead in innovation and growth, fundamentally transforming their entire value chain to tap the vast opportunities of industrial digitalisation. Together, we are offering an open, end-to-end digital portfolio – from digital twin to asset health – that gives our customers a competitive edge, building on our combined offering, domain expertise and global reach.

“ABB is adding Dassault Systèmes to its strong partner network for industrial digitalisation, including Microsoft, HPE and IBM. We look very much forward to working with the entire global Dassault Systèmes team to drive innovation and customer value.”

Bernard Charlès, Vice Chairman and CEO, Dassault Systèmes, said: “The industry of the 21st century is no longer determined simply by the ability to manufacture goods. Today’s leaders will be determined by superior mastery of technical know-how. This is the new competitive differentiator and it’s happening now due to a convergence of digital technologies that are transforming every aspect of industrial business.

“In this industry renaissance, a platform approach enables the real and virtual worlds to inform and reinforce one another. Our partnership with ABB will draw from decades of combined expertise to help customers make the most of this powerful and dynamic trend.”

ABB’s digital solution offering within the industry is tied to its ABB Ability platform, launched in 2017, which offers more than 210 digital solutions to plan, build and operate industrial operations with higher productivity and safety at lower costs.

Dassault Systèmes, meanwhile, works with companies of all sizes in 11 industries to help them meet new challenges. “The 3DEXPERIENCE platform integrates all the technologies and capabilities that leverage knowledge and know-how into one cohesive digital innovation environment that delivers digital continuity from concept to manufacturing to ownership and back,” the two companies said. Industrial companies can integrate the platform’s 3D applications to create a digital twin that captures insights and expertise from across their entire ecosystem, to measure, assess and predict the performance of an industrial asset and help optimise its operation in an intelligent way, they added.

The ABB – Dassault Systèmes partnership will initially focus on factory automation and robotics, smart building and process industries.

On the latter, the two companies said: “Competitive pressure in process industries, such as mining, requires companies to continuously look for new ways to increase safety, productivity and energy efficiency of sites, while reducing costs and risk of daily operations. A digital model of the underground environment, in connection with mine planning and control systems, would allow to optimise energy consumption and mine automation, as well as enable mine operators to monitor and optimise production in real-time, while running virtual simulations of future scenarios.”

Hitachi and CSIRO seal ties with R&D and social innovation pact

Hitachi has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) aimed at cooperating in areas of research and development and social innovation.

Examples of potential cooperation identified in the MoU include research and development activities in the fields of autonomous systems, digital twins, material tracking, urban systems, security, artificial intelligence, digital transformation, and IoT sensing across primary industries.

Anand Singh, Executive Director and Director of Operations Hitachi Australia, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with CSIRO as we continue to invest our efforts in introducing technologies and systems across Australia that will impact social wellbeing. This partnership will also enable collaborative efforts with a variety of different stakeholders who are in alliance with CSIRO from different industries and academia.”

The MoU was executed by Atsushi Konishi, Managing Director of Hitachi Australia, and Dr Larry Marshall, Chief Executive Officer of CSIRO, on November 19. This coincided with the return of the Hitachi Social Innovation Forum in Sydney. The forum looked into developments around big data analytics, digitalisation, smart cities and automation.